Excessive stress can not only affect workplace performance, it is also one of the UK’s biggest causes of employee absence, responsible for more than half of all working days lost every year.
By following a few simple steps however, an effective stress management programme can be implemented to minimise its impact on employees and employers alike.
PMI Health Group’s expert healthcare consultants offer 10 top tips for shielding employees from the harmful consequences of stress and anxiety.
1/ System overload: Most employees regard a good day’s work as a fulfilling and rewarding experience. Push staff too hard however, and physical, psychological and emotional fatigue can set in. Excessive workload may lead to a higher level of output in the short term, but the health issues it can cause means this is unlikely to be maintained over the longer term.
It should be possible for employees to accomplish their tasks and responsibilities within the time available. To ensure this is the case, managers should regularly review workload demands and realistically assess employees’ capacities.
2/ A question of capability: Stress will invariably result where there is a discrepancy between workplace demands and an individual’s ability to meet expectations.
Managers should familiarise themselves with their employees’ duties and make every effort to ensure they have the necessary training and tools to carry out their tasks, particularly when they are expected to adapt to new workplace responsibilities.
3/ Unleashing mental resilience: Pressure is a part of our daily lives but some of us are better able to deal with it than others. Advice and training to staff on how best to build mental resilience can deliver significant benefits.
The value of mindfullness – a meditation-based approach to stress management – for example is increasingly being recognised as a means to help employees cope under stress and is being used by organisations such as Google, the NHS, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Home Office.
4/ Psychological support: Employees suffering with stress should be provided with confidential counselling and access to information on support, advice and self-help groups. Employers should look at their benefits provision and make employees aware of any schemes that may support them. EAPs, for example, can provide face-to-face counselling sessions.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), supported by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is increasingly being used to tackle anxiety and depression and is supported by NICE.
Individuals requiring counselling should be granted time off work to receive treatment.
5/ All work and no play: Monitor employees working hours and ensure they build time into their working day for adequate breaks, particularly at lunch. They should be advised to periodically step away from their working environments, with fresh air often helping to clear heads, enabling staff to focus better on their return. Even when business pressures demand increasing employee workloads, staff should be given regular breaks during which they can engage with colleagues.
Managers should also ensure employees take their full holiday entitlement. If the right work-life balance is reached, staff will enjoy going to work and be able to ‘switch-off’ when they leave.
Stress can often occur when staff feel they’re working too hard and neglecting other important areas of their lives. Where possible, introduce flexible working practices to encourage a healthy work-life balance and to support staff with pressures outside of work, such as caring responsibilities.
6/ Nurture a caring ethos: Managers and supervisors can make a big difference by fostering workplace cultures that encourage positive relationships between management and employees. Employees, for example, should be recognised and praised for their achievements and made to feel a part of business decision-making.
7/ Somewhere to turn: If relationships of trust have been fostered between employees and managers, most staff grievances should be solved quickly and informally.
Suitable complaints and support procedures should still be in place however to ensure grievances are appropriately aired and handled when they arise. Employees should also have access to union or staff representatives.
8/ Knowledge is power: Sharing knowledge with employees will empower them and make them feel more at ease. Communicating in a clear, open and honest fashion when implementing organisational change or revising working practices will therefore go a long way to minimising anxiety.
If staff are able to see the bigger picture, they will have greater understanding of why and where change is occurring.
9/ Help managers manage: Supervisors and line managers should be given training, where appropriate, on best practice to establish a two-way dialogue with staff. Poor communication is generally regarded as being one of the leading causes of workplace stress.
Where required, employees should be given guidance on prioritising tasks and organising their time. They should also be given an opportunity to provide feedback on work matters that might lead to unnecessary stress, whether via formal meetings or through informal discussions.
10/ A benchmark for best practice: It is advisable for companies to measure their workplace environment against the Health & Safety Executive’s Management Standards. These define the characteristics, or culture, of organisations that have implemented best practice in stress risk management.